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Are artist colonies yesterday's utopia?


At certain times in life, living in an artist colony might seem interesting: one’s bohemian teenage years; fresh-out-of-college years; or, perhaps, amid looking into a busy work season in late summer. However you spin it, “artist colony” is kind of a cringey term–it harkens images of linen-clad dancing hippies and very, very bad art. In T Magazine, Rachel Corbett traces the history of the German artist colony Worpswede (aka “Marfa in Germany”), founded in 1889 and responsible for spawning the likes of Josephine Meckseper.

I’m curious to hear others’ experiences with artist colonies. I’ve heard positive things about Yaddo and Mildred’s Lane (where I actually attended after undergrad and had a great time), though do these count as “artist colonies”? In at time when neoliberalism-fueled gentrification is pricing artists out of big cities, there’s certainly room for an artist colony renaissance. Your thoughts?

Corbett on Worpswede in part below.

It was there that Rilke fell in love with his future wife, the sculptor Clara Westhoff, while the wunderkind portraitist Paula Becker married Otto Modersohn, a landscape painter. This grand tradition of artist love stories has carried on for generations since. During the colony’s second creative renaissance in the 1960s, the artist Friedrich Meckseper moved from Berlin and married the local photographer Barbara Müller. The great-niece of colony co-founder Heinrich Vogeler, Müller gave birth to their daughter, Josephine, three years later.

Today, Josephine Meckseper is one of the most prominent artists to come out of Worpswede yet. “It became clear quickly that I was going to be an artist,” she says. “When art is such a natural vocabulary in your life, there wasn’t much of a decision.” But Meckseper, who has been living in New York since 1992, is also not the first artist of her generation to leave. The population in Worpswede is aging, and the museums have emphasized historical work.
The Amsterdam-based curator Tim Voss wants to change that. Since launching Die Kolonie in 2013, he has staged a symposium on “Psycho Materialism” and hosted 16 contemporary artists from London, Taiwan and beyond to work out of the colony’s five rural studios. Next year a group of West African artists will team up with artists from Berlin to create a joint film, “Worpswede: A Character’s Quest.” Die Kolonie hasn’t always been an easy sell. Tourists want to see historical paintings, while “contemporary art is totally alien” to locals, Voss says. “But it’s very important to do these things — otherwise Worpswede won’t have a future as a place for art production. But compared to other cities where I’ve worked, the good thing here is that I don’t have to convince people of the value of art. They say, ‘We don’t know anything about it anymore, but we understand this tradition, so please do these alien things here.’”

*Image of Worpswede via Heinrich Vogeler